Are sour beers healthy?

Sour beers have become increasingly popular in recent years. With their tart, funky flavors, these beers offer a refreshing alternative to traditional styles like IPAs and stouts. But are sour beers actually good for you? Here’s a deep dive into the health impacts of drinking sour beer.

What are sour beers?

Sour beers get their distinctive tart flavor from lactic acid, produced when the beer is inoculated with lactic acid bacteria. This is in contrast to regular beers which get their flavor from yeast. There are many styles of sour beer, including:

  • Lambics – Spontaneously fermented sour beers from Belgium. Lambics are exposed to wild yeasts and bacteria which contribute to their funky flavors.
  • Gose – A tart German-style wheat beer, flavored with coriander and salt.
  • Berliner Weisse – A low-alcohol German sour beer, often served with sweet fruit syrups.
  • Flanders Red Ale – A maltier sour beer from Belgium, with a distinctive red color.
  • American Wild Ale – A broad range of experimentational sour beers made by US craft brewers.

While styles vary, what defines sour beers is their acidity. Most have a pH between 3.2 and 3.6, giving them a bracing sourness similar to yogurt or sour candy.

Are sour beers gluten-free?

Most sour beers are brewed with barley or wheat, meaning they do contain gluten. The exceptions are sour beers made from alternative grains like sorghum, buckwheat or rice. These specialty sour beers would be safe for those following a gluten-free diet.

It’s important to note that no beers are 100% gluten-free, even those based on gluten-free grains. Trace amounts of gluten can be introduced during brewing and processing.

Calories and carbohydrates in sour beer

Sour beers are relatively low in calories compared to other beer styles. A 12oz serving contains on average:

  • 150 calories
  • 12g carbohydrates
  • 10g alcohol

For comparison, a regular lager or ale provides around 150 calories and 15g carbs per 12oz serving. So while sour beers do contain a moderate amount of carbs and alcohol, their calorie count is slightly lower than normal beers.

Do sour beers have probiotics?

The lactic acid in sour beers is produced by lactic acid bacteria, a type of “good bacteria” found in probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut. However, most sour beers do not contain live cultures of probiotics.

During fermentation, souring bacteria produce lactic acid. The bacteria ultimately die off from alcohol produced as the beer ferments. Very little probiotic bacteria remain in the final beer. So while sour beer shares similarities with probiotic foods, it likely does not offer the same digestive health benefits.

Vitamins and minerals

Like regular beers, most sour beers provide little nutritional value beyond calories, carbs and alcohol. They do not contain significant amounts of vitamins or minerals.

However, one exception is vitamin B9 (folate). Beer yeast is a natural source of folate, and research shows sour beers contain slightly higher levels – around 20-25mcg per 12oz serving.

While no one is claiming beer is a health food, sour styles do offer a little more folate than other beers. But dietary sources like beans, lentils and leafy greens provide much more.

Do sour beers have antioxidants?

Studies show that yeast produces antioxidants during fermentation, which remain present in beer. In particular, yeast make compounds called phenolic acids which have antioxidant properties.

Interestingly, sour beers have been found to contain higher total phenolic levels compared to non-sour styles. The bacteria added during sour beer production may work synergistically with yeast to produce more antioxidants.

However, beer is far from the best dietary source of antioxidants. Fruits, vegetables, coffee and even dark chocolate provide vastly higher antioxidant levels.

Gut health

There is some evidence that consuming foods made with live probiotic cultures can benefit digestive health by optimizing the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome. Can sour beers provide similar benefits?

Possibly, but evidence is limited. Only one study has looked specifically at sour beer. Researchers found that drinking an American wild ale for one month increased microbial diversity in the gut of healthy adults. More research is needed to confirm the gut health impact of long-term sour beer consumption.


Chronic inflammation contributes to numerous diseases and aging. Some research shows wine and beer contain anti-inflammatory compounds like polyphenols.

Sour beers may be particularly anti-inflammatory thanks to their high antioxidant content. But much more research is needed before concluding that sour beer has special benefits for inflammation.

Heart health

Moderate alcohol consumption has long been associated with lower heart disease risk compared to abstaining. In particular, beer contains anti-clotting compounds that may benefit heart health.

Sour beers likely provide these same benefits. However, any heart health gains would come from the alcohol itself. Non-alcoholic sour beers would not have the same impact.

Kidney stones

Citric acid is thought to help prevent calcium kidney stones by binding with calcium to prevent stone formation. One study found that the citric acid in beer can provide protection against stones.

Sour beers contain considerably more citric acid than non-sour styles, due to citric acid’s role in providing tartness. While yet to be scientifically studied, sour beers may offer greater protection against kidney stones compared to other beers.

Bone health

Silicon is a mineral important for bone formation. Beer has been identified as a significant dietary source of silicon.

While little research exists on sour beer specifically, these beers likely contain similar or greater silicon levels as other styles. Hops and barley contain silicon, both of which are present in most sour beers.

Does sour beer have prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that promote growth of good bacteria in the gut. Studies suggest beer contains some prebiotic compounds.

Specific prebiotics in beer include:

  • Maltose and maltotriose – Carbs from the malting process.
  • Dextrins – Digestion-resistant carbohydrates from the mashing process.

These prebiotic compounds remain present in sour beer. Maltose levels may actually be higher in sour beer due to slower conversion of maltose to glucose during souring. This suggests sour beer may provide slightly greater prebiotic benefits.

Blood pressure

Drinking alcohol in moderation is associated with slightly lower blood pressure. Compounds in beer such as polyphenols may also play a role.

Sour beers likely provide these same benefits, but no research has directly investigated their impact on blood pressure.

Brain health

Lower rates of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s are associated with moderate beer drinking. Compounds in hops may protect brain cells and slow mental decline.

Sour beer contains these same beneficial hop compounds. As such, they likely offer similar neuroprotective effects as regular beer when consumed responsibly.

Weight loss

At around 150 calories per 12oz serving, sour beer fits reasonably well into a weight loss diet. It provides a lower calorie alcohol option compared to wine, spirits, and many mixed drinks.

Of course, excess alcohol from any source promotes weight gain. But when limited to 1-2 servings per day, sour beers can fit into a reduced calorie diet.

Risks and downsides of sour beer

While research into potential health benefits is promising, drinking too much sour beer – like any alcohol – carries risks:

  • Excess calories, carbs, and blood sugar spikes from high intake
  • Impaired judgment and coordination when drunk
  • Long term liver damage and addiction
  • Hangovers, which negatively impact work performance

There are also some groups who should exercise particular caution with sour beers:

  • People with digestive issues – Sour beers are highly acidic, which may worsen conditions like reflux, gastritis or ulcers.
  • Those sensitive to histamines – Fermented foods like sour beers contain histamines, which provoke reactions in some.
  • Anyone on antibiotics – Probiotics can negatively interact with certain antibiotics.
  • Pregnant women – Alcohol carries risks for fetal development.

For these groups, avoiding sour beers, or limiting to one serving per day with food, is advisable.

Are sour beers keto-friendly?

The ketogenic or “keto” diet relies on low carbohydrate intake to achieve ketosis. Liquor and wine are lower carb options, but most beers contain too many carbs to fit this diet.

With around 12g carbs per 12oz serving, most sour beers also contain too many carbs for keto. There are a handful of low-carb sour beers at 5g carbs or less per serving. But these specialty beers have very limited availability.

In general, sour beers are not keto-friendly and those following a strict ketogenic diet should avoid them.


Research into potential health benefits of sour beer is promising but limited. These tart brews likely offer similar benefits as other beers, including:

  • Improved gut diversity and prebiotic nourishment
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Lower heart disease risk (with moderate drinking)
  • Positive impacts on blood pressure, bones and the brain

However, drinking too much of any beer – including sours – negates these benefits. Excess alcohol impairs health in many ways. Moderation is key.

For most healthy adults, enjoying sour beers in moderation with food, at less than 15 servings per week for men and 10 per week for women, can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But those with certain conditions, and pregnant women, should exercise caution or avoid sours altogether.

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